- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 8, 2005

Some 35 years ago, relations between the Soviet Union and Mao Tse-tung’s China were brutally tense. Clashes along the Amur River, the natural boundary between the two communist powers, were moving toward war. Who would have believed let alone predicted the no-longer-communist Russia and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) would schedule joint military exercises next year?

I was reminded of the words of an early Christian theologian, Tertullian, who wrote about a miracle: “It is certain because it is impossible.” (For Latinists, “Certum est, quia impossibile est.”)

Few realize how close to war the two communist giants once stood. Between March and September 1969 each tried to provoke the other into war or at least some hostile action. One episode reported by the Soviet press involved how the Soviet military outwitted the Chinese without firing a shot.

On the Sinkiang border between the two communist giants, huge armies confronted each other night and day. One morning, a Chinese battalion moved out of its barracks and marched to within a few feet of the border. The commanding officer ordered an “about face” and then something occurred unheard of in all the annals of war from Joshua’s Jericho to today’s Baghdad. On a second command, the Chinese soldiers, lowered their trousers and showed their naked bottoms to the Red Army border patrol. In other words, they were mooning. They did this every morning.

The Soviet officers fumed, but what could they do? They couldn’t shoot the enemy across the border since mooning could hardly be considered an act of aggression justifying a military response. The Soviet Politburo, which had a few years earlier ousted Nikita Khrushchev as a “hare-brained schemer,” wasn’t looking for military adventures. And engaging Red Army soldiers in a “mooning” counterattack would be, in Russian terms, “nyekulturny” — crude, uncultured. Besides, the Chinese were doing it on their own territory. Shooting would be attack Chinese sovereignty over their own territory. What to do?

The gleeful Soviet media report described what became the last morning of the Chinese mooning. When the Chinese battalion marched out that morning and did its mooning maneuver, the Red Army had a big surprise ready. The Russians lowered from a cable, a huge banner portrait of no less than Mao Tse-tung.

In other words, the Chinese were mooning their revered leader and genocidist. Utterly unprepared for this “counterattack,” the Chinese battalion panicked and fled back to its barracks.

I was reminded of this episode as I read the Russians and Chinese were to engage in joint military maneuvers. I was also reminded of another episode, my New York Herald Tribune interview with Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in 1963 at his villa outside Taipei. I asked him what he thought the Soviet Union would do if mainland China attacked his forces on Taiwan and tried to reconquer the island. Chiang smiled and said he was confident the Soviet Union would come to his aid.

And in a few weeks, Russia and China will hold joint maneuvers. Such a military relationship is bad news for Taiwan. It would be a foolhardy Taiwanese president who would today raise anew the question of Taiwanese independence.

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for the Washington Times. His updated biography “Herman Wouk, the Novelist as Social Historian,” was recently published.

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